A Good Friday poem: Deathbed Conversation

Father, Father, why have you, forsaken me?
Why does it feel like you’ve walked away from me?
They’ve left me to die, hanging on this tree,
Even though they’re the guilty ones, not me.
I know  that this is the crux of your grand plan,
To reconcile yourself with sinful man,
but part of me wonders why I agreed
To go through this hell so that they may be freed
from lives that are rife with lust and greed
But it seems to be what you have decreed.
But since that’s your word, who I am to dissent?
I rest assured that this is not the end,
That though I die, I shall live again
And return to be with you in  heaven
And I shall see those who trust in me   
And trust my death will set them free.
Thus, in your court, I stand accused,
I accept your judgment for what others do,
And wait for you to rescue me 
To rule by your side in heaven for eternity. 

(C) 2014 Pravin Jeyaraj

Happy Epiphany: Coca Cola bearing gifts

A belated Happy New Year. More importantly, Happy Epiphany (today). Or, if you are an Orthodox Christian, Happy Christmas (starting today or soon).

According to the stats, my blog is multicultural.

That’s what I like about Epiphany, when the the wise men came from somewhere in the East to see and worship Jesus. From the very beginning, it reminds us that Jesus did not come for a singular culture; the Gospel isn’t a Jewish or Western thing.

The same account in the Bible also sees Mary and Joseph, with Jesus, becoming refugees fleeing persecution by the regime of the time and others being killed.

I think both of these aspects of the Christmas story speak a lot to the world as it is today. 

Oddly, only one advert has captured this paradox: Coca Cola. I have reposted an advert from 4 years ago and this year’s version as a last (or first) day of Christmas gift.

From 2010

From 2013\4

The Gospel is like a bottle of Coca  Cola: everyone can share in it, it united all.

How was your Christmas Day?

Perhaps this is a question you’ve already been asked in the post-Christmas, pre-New Year lull. What was your answer? Or maybe it’s something to look forward to when you go back to work or school. How would you answer? For me, it was exciting.

Christmas Day was not exciting because of the presents I received. That’s not to say they were not good presents and I am not thankful for them. But the last time I would describing receiving presents from other people as exciting is when I was a kid.

It was not exciting because I spent it with family. Again,that is not to say it was not good time but, as I live with my parents and see my sister and brother-in-law regularly, Christmas Day was arguably in many ways just like any other day of the year.

Indeed, for 13 years, I increasingly found myself asking what’s the point of Christmas? If Christmas Day is not special because of presents and family, why bother celebrating it? 

I became excited about Christmas seven years ago, when I became a Christian.

Presents and family are precisely what Christmas is about, not in themselves but as symbols of God’s gift to humankind to welcome us back into his family. His son, Jesus Christ, was born as a human to live as one of us, be executed for all of us and come back to life so that each of us could be forgiven of our sins and be with God for eternity.  
 
Why do you find Christmas exciting or not? Please leave your answer below.

Christmas Thought: Waiting for Jesus

Its now 7 am on Christmas Day 2013.

The two days before Christmas Day is traditionally busy for me, but not because I am doing my Christmas shopping or trying to get home for Christmas. I live with my parents and I would have sorted out presents by then. On Christmas Day and during Advent, Christians remember not only that God came to Earth as a human, jesus, but also that Jesus will come again.

There are different views on how this might happen. Some Christians believe that Jesus will first return quietly like a thief in the night, take all genuine Christians of all time to heaven suddenly (the rapture), let Satan wreak havoc for a few years (the Tribulation) then come back in visible full force to judge everyone. This is meant to be a final attempt by God to let people accept or reject him. Other people believe, however, that there is no rapture and that we are going through Tribulation at the moment – I lean in this direction. Through my PhD, I am increasingly realising that ideology, including capitalism and communism, is the work of Satan. There are other interpretations too but all Christians agree that Jesus will come back when no one expects it for a Last Judgment. No one knows when though – only God does, as the Bible says, so if anyone claims to know he or she is a false prophet.

I always think therefore, how do I want Jesus to find me when he returns. This soon morphs into, if there is a rapture how do I want to leave my room for others to find.

Of course, Jesus could come back any day of the year. But the deadline of Christmas Day motivates me to do a mass spring clean just in case. This is why the last two days have been hectic but last night it was all done. (There’s still more to do but I’ll need something to do if Jesus doesn’t return today.)

So its now 7:45 am on Christmas Day. I am getting up to celebrate his birthday.

Happy Christmas.

God did not make me narrow-minded

For someone with a broadly liberal outlook, it is disconcerting to be called narrow-minded. Before I became a Christian, I saw nothing wrong with sex before marriage, homosexual practice, abortion or inter-faith marriage. Since I accepted that jesus died for my sins, I have struggled with how I should view them. But in the end I accept that God has put forward a particular template for life; who am I as a lowly human to question God? Every time I try to reconcile his law with an opposing world view, I am saying that the manufacturer of the world is wrong. Thats like saying Microsoft cannot know how Word works (probably not the best analogy).

On the contrary, being a Christian has meant that I must be even more open-minded. As Peter writes in Acts chapter 10, God does not show favouritism to one group of people. Jesus died for the sins of all people. He will accept anyone who accepts this truth because they have been cleansed. So, being part of a global church family, i am called to love people whom my liberal self would have seen as the tools of the devil. I am called to love those who live what the bible calls sinful  lifestyles because I am a sinner; they need Jesus as much I need him. I am called to love my neighbour because we are all made in God’s image. And finally I am called to love an infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God;  how can such a God be contained within the limits of mind? I have to open my mind just to consider him.

In truth, it is atheists who are closeminded because they cannot conceive what they cannot see. It is liberals who are closeminded because anyone who disagrees with them is biased, prejudiced, even if the reason for their bias is beyond the limits of this world. (Those who are biased because they hate others who are not like them are just as closeminded.) And finally, those who believe that there is more than one way to God and that all religions are the same are closeminded for not accepting a faith that says there is only one way to God.  

In my experience, trying to keep God out involves erecting some kind of mental boundary. It is like living in a closed society, that cannot look over the walls and becoming more and more fearful of what is beyond. The irony is that Jesus is outside, knocking, waiting for you to call him in; at the same time, all God needs is a crack in the wall and he will gradually knock it down.

For the record, I am still a liberal who believes in freedom. That is because only God can really free or liberate the mind.

Christmas post: It is the thought that counts

It’s the evening of Christmas Day – presents unwrapped, stomach full and I am so tired. Personally I am content with this year’s haul. However I was disturbed to see loads of tweets in my timeline this morning from people moaning they didn’t get this or that. (Apparently iphones and ugg boots were particularly desirable.)

It does not matter what present or gift you receive or how much it costs. In a Hegelian dialectic, we exist when we recognise or acknowledge others as capable of recognising us. Whilst there is mutuality to the relationslip, there is an element of co-dependence. We desire recognition from the other through something the other can provide, and vice versa. The relationship is abstract when the self becomes aware or conscious of the other as someone/thing that is not the self, but it is realised when we not only act on that thought through our body but the other accepts our action. A relationship is therefore not just something intellectual or emotional but there is materiality. Giving presents is an expression of that materiality but when we prioritise the present over the act of giving or receiving, the relationship takes on a master/slave quality. When we receive a present, we can see that the donor thought about us. The present could be rubbish for all intents and purposes, it does not matter. However, if we think it is rubbish, it is perhaps an indication that we do not properly recognise the donor. On the other hand, the same applies if we put no thought into the present and give rubbish for the sake of giving.

Christmas of course is about a gift that God gave us. He thought of us and loved us that he gave himself in human form. The gift was about as expensive as it could get: it cost him his place in Heaven and it cost him his life in,the most painful way possible at the time. By comparison, any present we give to or receive from others is always going to be rubbish and fall short of our expectations. Hegel argued that the only way we can be content is to recognise ourselves or, as Slavoj Zizek says, to change our perspective.

The Bible – God’s Thesis

There are many different ways to read the Bible. Some people choose to read it literally, which is problematic because not every part is meant to be a chronological narrative. Others read it christologically where every bit points to Jesus. Others will look for consistent patterns throughout or even as a love letter from God. I would like to posit it, in the greatest respect, as God’s Thesis.

Firstly, the Bible can be divided into sections equivalent to that of a thesis. The first 11 chapters of Genesis, from creation to the tower of Babel, is his introduction. It is difficult to argue that it is historical. It seems more mythical. It therefore succinctly states God’s overall argument: I created man, man disobeyed me, but I will save them even though no-one deserves because I love man. This is best captured in the story of Noah, who trusted God and did something which sounds ridiculous and unreasonable – build a boat miles away from water – because the boat  became the source of salvation through God’s power. (Ok, so God was a researcher-participant.) Noah’s drunkenness and Tower of Babel emphasises man’s ongoing capacity to sin, even after being saved.

From Abraham through to the letter of Jude, including the gospels, God presents his evidence and analysis for his overall argument. of course, there are many things which point to Jesus but also many references to first 11 chapters, including Jesus. The conclusion of God’s thesis is the book of Revelation. It summarises the evidence and reveals God’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Bible has also been put together like an academic thesis. God is the lead author with a large research team whom he has selected himself. Many of his team had other jobs. Not all the material written or researched has made the final cut, indeed the value of some of the writings, such as Hebrews and 2 Peter, was not seen until quite late in the day. One could say the real writing up didn’t really begin until about 300 AD and the various church councils. In a sense, his thesis has been complete for 1,500 years and since then God has focused on teaching and the conference circuit. Obviously, one cannot draw exact parallels between God and an academic, after all knowledge is created by him in the first place.

Finally, everyone calls it God’s Word or logos. In other words, the Bible describes his underlying reasoning, i.e. his argument or thesis. Of course, no post of mine would be complete without mentioning Hegel. The Bible is arguably a dialectical text; it deals with the paradox of God’s love and wrath, of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, and of God’s as divine and as human. It includes many things which seem ridiculous, not least the idea of God dying. So, God’s Word is not just a thesis but a synthesis of a thesis and antithesis. As a dialectical text, it also a conversation between God and his creation.

As a PhD student and Christian, I have sought to ensure that everything I read is within a biblical framework (or at least I hope so) but still true to the text. One could argue that research is all about understanding God (the author) through understanding the world (his creation). This ultimate purpose of research – among all the other human reasons – is reflected in the The Bible.

Yes, Yes, Oh God, Yes

Sex

Having an orgasm leads to an altered state of consciousness. This will probably not come as much as a surprise if you have had sex or masturbated to the point of ejaculation. But, just so you know, your suspicions have been confirmed by new scientific research, according to an article by Kayt Sukel in the New Scientist. What is interesting is what neuroscience tells us about the parts of the brain that are involved in sex and orgasms.

The neuroscientific research shows that it is the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain for “aspects of consciousness such as self-evaluation and considering something from another person’s perspective” that is active at the time of orgasm following self-stimulation masturbation. However, it also showed that a specific part of the prefrontal cortex, the left orbitofrontal cortex, appeared to switch off when orgasm followed partner-stimulated masturbation.

The pre-frontal cortex happens to be the part of the brain responsible for self-control, organisation of thoughts, creation of narrative and ultimately finding a reason or purpose for things. The researchers, Barry Komisaruk (Rutgers University, US) and Janniko Georgiadis (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) surmised that self-stimulation required greater mental effort to create a fantasy or image to take the place of a partner, whose presence would make it easier to let go. If someone else is stimulating us, there’s not that much we need to do. So a part of the prefrontal cortex turns off – the altered state of consciousness. This is perhaps why the ‘Yes, Yes, Oh God, Yes’ moment is more pronounced during sex. But I think that that expression is more than a figure of speech in the throes of passion.

But if the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that creates purpose and organisation, then atheists will say that God is simply notion of the prefrontal cortex. I don’t think this disproves the existence of God. On the contrary, if there is an external God and he does communicate with us directly, He is most likely to communicate with us through the prefrontal cortex. That is how he would relate to us.

I can’t speak for other faiths out of ignorance, but Christianity is meant to be about how God wants to have a relationship with us. In the Bible, this relationship is often described metaphorically as the marriage between a bride and bridegroom. Perhaps this isn’t as metaphorical as we might think. Perhaps the orgasm we get from sex is meant to be God’s way of giving us a temporary experience of what it’s like to be in an (eternal) relationship with Him in Heaven. He’s telling us, ‘If you like sex and orgasm, then you are going to love being with me’.

Obviously the above research is not conclusive but Komisaruk and Georgiadis suggested that there are many valid reasons why we don’t have orgasms during sex but ultimately it’s down to not letting go and giving up control to let someone else pleasure and satisfy us. In the same way, the only way that we can experience this erotic relationship with God is if we completely submit to Him and let Him pleasure and satisfy us. Perhaps in heaven, our left orbitofrontal cortex will be completely turned off and we will be in constant state of sexual orgasm. (Perhaps the experience of the Fall described in Genesis, when we are supposed to have turned our backs on God, is when the left orbitofrontal cortex became switched on. Maybe that’s why the whole of humanity became infected with ‘sin'; there was actually a physiological change in our thinking.) Orgasm following from masturbation, on the other hand, does point to this relationship but is only a shadow because we are still in control.

Apparently, it’s also possible for women and children to have orgasms while being raped or abused. Now, rape and sexual abuse is a horrible act so this understandably creates confusion. I’m not expert so this paragraph should be taken with a pinch of salt. But perhaps the victim, either consciously or subconsciously, gets to the point where they realise that the abuser is going to do it to them whether they resist or not. So they just wait for it be over, essentially giving up.

This blog post does raise an interesting issue about certain controversial narratives about Jesus, such as in The Last Temptation of Christ or the Da Vinci Code. Though this is not in the Bible, Mary Magdalene has historically been portrayed the physical lover of Christ. Christians have traditionally rejected this but in light of the above research I wonder whether, actually, the Mary Magdalene-as-lover narrative is just another way of talking about being in relationship with God. Mary gave herself, submitted herself, completely to Christ (God) and allowed him to satisfy her. (I am not suggesting that she actually did have sex with him. But, when one thinks of the Hegelian dialectic between contradictory ideas, perhaps that’s what we have here.) Theresa of Avila has described a perfect union with God as ‘devotion of ecstasy’.

Indeed, the whole Christian faith is based on a sexual act – the Holy Spirit of God coming into Jesus’ mother Mary. Mary entered that altered state of consciousness, she went to Heaven and back. In John’s gospel, the writer always describes himself the ‘disciple that Jesus loved’. Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles is written in the form of a letter from the writer to Theophilius, which is Greek for ‘lover of God’. There’s even a whole book in the Bible, The Song of Songs, which is erotic love song between newlyweds and is also taken to be an allegory for the divine relationship between us and God.

Right, I’m off to my room to pray…

 

 

What’s in a Name? (Leader of the Wise Men)

US birth certificate
Our names are recorded on our birth certificates

Names are amazing and beautiful. They are relatively small, just a handful of letters, but they are our very first label. They form the basis of our identity and yet are probably the only part of our identity that we do not have any control over. Well, that and our genes, but people won’t generally be asking for a blood test as a matter of course.

This post was inspired by a conversation on Twitter with @rellypops, otherwise known as Narelle. I hope I don’t embarrass her by saying that I thought her name was very beautiful. The funny thing is that if she had not contributed a post to my other blog, I would be thinking she was a guy, based on our earlier conversations. Although on hindsight, Narelle doesn’t sound like a guy’s name.

So, as I was saying, I generally find names to be amazing. In my view, they are the second gift to us from our parents (the first being life). But whatever the reason our parents chose our names, I think God was inspiring them somehow because our names are an indication of our destiny. Of course, with a name like Pravin, I might be a bit biased.

The story of how my parents decided on my name is, er, interesting. Actually, it’s quite mundane. My mum was flicking through some of my dad’s professional membership magazines (he was an engineer). Apparently, she saw the name Pravin in one of the magazines. The story became more interesting when I asked what my name meant. (Actually, I’m not sure whether I asked or whether they just told me.) Apparently, according to them, my name means ‘Leader of the Wise Men’. Talk about ego booster.  Of course, this may have been a little poetic licence, because when I googled my name years later, all I could find for a meaning was ‘expert’, although it could be argued that an expert is a leader of wise men in a way. (Ok, yes, I am biased.)

I have to be honest the meaning of my name did have an influence on me. I did focus more time on academic study, as opposed to social relations, because I wanted to live up to my name. (My academics at school and degree level perhaps didn’t make me leader.) But I also started creating my own narrative. I remembered how, when I was younger, whenever I played a role in the nativity at school, I was always one the wise men (usually the one who brought myrrh). In a another school play, I was a grand vizier. When I played Vashistha in the Ramayana for a tamil community association play, it was not lost of me that Vashistha was the leader of the wise men. Then, from my shortlived career as a journalist to my current role as a PhD student and blogger, perhaps that thought of being some kind of an expert is there, subconsciously.

Hegel
Hegel - Leader of the Wise Men?

Perhaps its partly why I am drawn to the dialectical philosophy of Hegel. In The End of Human Rights, Costas Douzinas describes as a totalising philosophy that is meant to encompass all philosophies, a sort of theory of everything or logos. Hegel himself was very much an interdiscplinary scholar. In the introduction to J B Baillie’s’s of The Phenomenology of Spirit, Baillie said that Hegel sought to incorporate all the philosophical theories of the past by “giving logical continuity to what in appearance was mere historical sequence, and by showing that his own distinctive principle of synthesis was at once the presuppositions, the outcomes and the completion of his predecessors”. He saw that his principle of synthesis could only be vindicated completely if it contained “every fundamental type of experience in which mind had been historically realised”. In a sense, one could argue that Hegel sought to be a ‘leader of wise men’, although it is up to us to decide whether he was or not. But what’s interesting is that being the leader didn’t mean coming up with his own thing from scratch but humbly recognising the work of others and building on that. The leader is, not the first in line but the last or the follower and is no-one without those who have gone before or standing underneath. It’s like Isaac Newton saying that he was standing on the shoulder of giants.

Now I haven’t really had any wider discussions with many other people about their names, usually because they don’t know. But my dad’s name, which in Tamil culture is my surname, means ‘King of Victory’. Out of respect, I don’t want to go into to many details but I can see how that is an appropriate name for him. Indeed, names must mean something when even God places a value on the names we are given. The first woman was called Eve because ‘she would be become the mother of all life’ and it is our mothers who give us life by carrying us in the womb, giving birth, breastfeeding and nurturing us. (If we think about the use of ‘eve’ now, it refers to the day before, just as our mothers came before us.) God renamed Abram as Abraham (Hebrew for father of many) because he would be ‘a father of many nations’. And then of course, there is Joshua and Jesus, Hebrew and Greek respectively for ‘God saves’, and both them did end up saving people. The irony is that, at the time of the Roman Empire, Jesus was a pretty popular name in Palestine (understandably) – the man who was freed by Pontius Pilate in place of Jesus – was Jesus Barabbas, a convicted murderer. This suggests that a lot of people perhaps do not live up to their (God-given) names.

So what would it mean for me to live up to my name of ‘expert’ or ‘leader of the wise men’. From Hegel’s example, to be a leader means to be a follower and to recognise that you cannot do things on your own, that you need other people.  Certainly, this is what Jesus told his disciples – the first shall be last and the last shall be first. But what does it mean to be wise. Was Hegel a ‘leader of wise men’ or just a very knowledgeable one? After all, a philosopher is Greek for wise man. Is it presumptuous of me to think that it is God’s will for me to be a the leader/follower of philosophers? This is a really difficult. This is the first time I’ve really sat down and thought about the meaning of my name and what it means. Perhaps God told me right from the very beginning what he wanted me to do. I remember being asked at the age of six what I wanted to be  when I grew up and I said that I wanted to be scientist that invents a machine that converts grass to spaghetti (hey, I was six). However, since my degree, I have not gone down the science route. Or have I? If one thinks of the original meaning of science as ‘knowledge’, then surely a student and journalist are both seekers of knowledge, i.e. scientists. And, according to the Book of Proverbs (in the Bible), the beginning of knowledge is the fear/reverence of the Lord. In other words, taking my name in full, my destiny is to be ‘a follower of God’ and ‘Jesus’ (who is the King of Victory). It was never my intention that this post would end like this but I think I can actually say ‘I found my destiny’. Now, I just need to see it through to the end.

Did I not say that names are amazing?

Boxing Day: A Day of Rememberance

I was surprised yesterday by how many people continued to tweet. I thought that like many things in the UK, Twitter might come to a standstill for the day as well. But, everyone – or at least all of my followers – was live tweeting about their own Christmas Day celebrations. I woke up this morning and Twitter and pretty much got back to normal, which was a shame. But I couldn’t help thinking that everyone, everywhere, no matter their spiritual persuasion, was celebrating and remembering (or not) the day that God’s Saviour Jesus Christ came into the world. For a day,  Twitter provided a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Then, it was back to today, Boxing Day, the day when the Christmas sales start (although with the internet and the recession, this seems to have got earlier).  It is believed that Christmas Day represents the positive message of Christmas, while Boxing Day is now a manifestation of the dark side, commercialism. The truth is more complicated. On the one hand, Boxing Day was traditionally a day that involved giving to the poor and those who served us (public sector and the low-paid service sector). On the other hand, the name ‘Boxing Day’ came from a tradition of tradesmen to collect Christmas boxes as a thanks for the good service they provided. So, the commercialism of the Boxing Day sales may seem crass but actually it is about helping those companies and employees and saying thank you for giving us what we want. And one could argue, particularly in the current economic crisis, public sector workers, service workers and retailers need all the help and thanks we can give.

But, of course, there is another group of people we need to remember – people who are persecuted for the faith all over the world. Yesterday, for example, churches were bombed in Nigeria. On Christmas Day, we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. One thing that Jesus said was that it won’t be easy being a Christian, that often we will face hostility. Of course, unfortunately, Christians have also been the source of persecution. Furthermore, other faith groups have been the giver and/or receiver of persecution for their faith. Why should we particularly remember them on 26th December? It is the Day of the Feast of St Stephen (St Stephen’s Day), who has become known as the first Christian ever Christian martyr and whose stoning triggered a mass persecution of Christians by Saul before he became the Apostle Paul.

But you don’t need to be Christian or religious to feel sad or outraged that people are persecuted for their faith. That’s why I  feel it is appropriate we should remember the words of Martin Niemoller famous words, which I first read at the age of 12 and it had a profound impact on my thinking:

First they came for the Communists but I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews but I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Jew

Then they came for the trade unionists but I did not speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics but I did not speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me but by that time no one was left to speak up.”

It is interesting that Martin Niemoller talks about persecution across the board, whether religious, political, racial and socioeconomic.

So today what are you doing today? If you are fortunate like me to live in the West, be thankful that we are not persecuted for our beliefs, then spare a thought for those who are, maybe do some research on the internet to see what you can do. Give some money to charity. Then go out and shop, shop, shop, giving thanks for all those people who are working today and throughout the year so that you can live and do as you want.

Oh, and if you like this blog post and you are on Twitter, please retweet using #ststephensday and #boxingday hashtags.

Poem: My Christmas Party

Well, it’s that time of year, Christmas, and to say to thanks to my followers, both on WordPress and Twitter, here’s a Christmas present. Hope you enjoy!

I’m not that keen on turkey, since I went all-veg,

But, sitting around the table, pulling crackers, making jokes,

And my mum’s cooking makes it feel complete.

I worry about the carbon dioxide from all the fairy lights ,

But they bear witness to man’s imagination and ability to beautify.

Sometimes presents can be disappointing, if you dream of an Xbox,

But it really is the thought that counts not how much is costs.

Like wine, the Queen’s speech is a tradition that get’s better with age,

And I’m not that great at making toasts,

So with a nod to the past and glimpse at the future, I’ll just say:

To the children of our parents,

and the parents of our children,

and everyone in between.’

But let’s not forget the birthday boy, without whom this party makes no sense,

Let’s lift our glasses, say thanks for his gift and promise we’ll keep in touch.

(C) 2011 Pravin Jeya

Will the real Christmas please stand up?

Christmas Tree
The Meaning of Christmas?

In just under two months’ time, we’ll be celebrating another Christmas? Or will we?

It’s that time of year when certain sections of the press look for news stories about  how bureaucracy is suppressing the the true meaning of Christmas on the grounds of anti-discrimination. I would argue that the real problem is the cheapening of Christmas by those who don’t even believe in Christ.

This post has come out of conversations on Twitter over the last two days with a number of atheists. I have found it particularly interesting that even though they don’t believe in God or Christ, they are quite happy to use the name ‘Christmas’ for whatever celebrations they have.

Now, I don’t have a problem with them celebrating an essentially pagan festival. I just believe that they are being dishonest when they say celebrate the mass of Christ (Christmas). Since they don’t believe in him, it’s like going to a birthday party and ignoring the birthday boy.

This dishonesty in faith is something I have seen all my life. I was born into a Hindu family. (By that, I mean that, at the time of my birth, my parents professed to be Hindus – my mum has since become Christian.) But, living in a European country, we always ‘celebrated’ Christmas. As a child, what did this mean? It meant the Christmas tree, lights, decorations, presents under the tree, Father Christmas, crackers, Roast Turkey and so on. And yes, as a child, this all sounds great. But as I became older, I became less enamoured by these festivities.

I knew all about the Christmas story, about God and Jesus and the (three) wise men. It was a nice story but I couldn’t see what was so special about Christmas that warranted the decorations and the presents and turkey. I became even more disillusioned when I learnt that the party atmosphere of Christmas actually pre-dates the birth of Christ from a Roman festival called Saturnalia and a Celtic festival called Yule. The general messages of peace on earth and goodwill towards men seemed like an all-year-round theme.

It was only when I became a Christian and understood why God came to Earth as a human baby that I realised why we celebrate Christmas. It took me thirty years to figure out that Christmas meant nothing without Christ. (This was my experience.) I also realised that one cannot celebrate a festival called ‘Christmas’ without celebrating Christ and one can’t celebrate Christ without believing in him.

But this post is about more than the true meaning of Christmas. It is about understanding the reason why we do certain things in the name of faith. Coming from a Hindu background, I realise that many professing Hindus are in fact cultural Hindus. They do the rituals because they have always been done, but they don’t know why they are doing it. Cultural religion is not unique to Hinduism. I would suggest that the atheists of Twitter I debated with this week were cultural Christians. They didn’t believe in the theology but, for whatever reason, they found some form of comfort in the practice, which is why they kicked up a fuss when I suggested that they should call their festivities something else.

Poem: Jesus is my caffeine fix

Mug
Jesus: Living Water of Caffeine Fix

I have been writing poetry on and off for the last 15 years. A lot of what I’ve written has been recycled – I only keep the good stuff. Some of it has been published, some of it not yet.

A few years ago, by way of a birthday present, I gave my mum a mug with a poem on it that I had written.  She seems to drink in this mug all the time.

Yesterday morning (Thursday), Premier Radio’s Breakfast Show ran a poetry competition, with the prize being a book of poems by Christian pastor Jill Briscoe. My mum decided to read out the poem that I had written and had printed on her mug.

It probably doesn’t take a PhD to work out that I wouldn’t be posting about this if she hadn’t won.

So, I post that poem here for your (hopeful) enjoyment and it should be clear why it was an appropriate text for a mug.

Caffeine Fix

When I wake up in the morning,

You give me a kick for the day.

You are there on my way to work,

And I don’t even have to pay.

It’s my need for you that gets me

From my overwhelming desk.

But you give me the energy

To get through more, not less.

Where two or three have gathered,

It’s your aroma that’s in the air.

As I catch up with my friends,

Your refreshing power is what we share.

When I get home to the TV,

It is on you I like to sup.

Move over, Starbucks, Kenco, Nescafe,

Jesus Christ is my coffee cup.

(C)2011 Pravin Jeya

Baptism: it’s all about the experience

So, after four years, I finally got round to being baptised. Full immersion was not as scary as I imagined it. To be honest, I had never expected it to be of any specific spiritual significance, which is one of the reasons why I hadn’t been too fussed about going through it before. I wasn’t too keen to indulge what I had previously seen as some ritual. (I come from a Hindu background where people perform rituals left, right and centre without knowing why they are doing it, other than that it is traditional.)

Anyway, regardless of what I thought, Jesus does command that one be baptised if they accept the gospel, as a public declaration of faith, and it go to the point where I could no longer go against that.

Now the actual act of immersion is pretty quick. It was over before I knew it and I was slightly in shock, particularly when the rest of the congregation started applauding. But, after I had changed into some dry clothes, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had been cleansed. I couldn’t explain it. After all, baptism is a symbolic act and is not essential, as such, to salvation. There was nothing special about the water in which I was baptised – ordinary tap water – or the hands or words of the pastor.  Plus, I was convinced that it’s only significance was symbolic.  Yet, even with that mindset, I still feel different. When I accepted Christ four years ago, I knew that my sins had been forgiven but I was still aware that I had committed them and they still hung around me like a bad smell. (God would just choose to ignore them.) But now I can’t smell anything, or at least, the smell has vastly improved. It doesn’t make sense. Rationally, I should not be feeling this, but I do.

All I can think is that baptism is, on the one hand, a symbolic act, but, on the other hand, it is more than a symbol. Is it possible that baptism, in fact, completes the (initial) process of salvation? Yes, I was saved when I accepted it intellectually. But, Jesus had to die and then be resurrected. As a result, we don’t have to die. But, baptism simulates the the death, burial and resurrection experience of Jesus, and without it faith is only intellectual. Baptism makes faith experiential. (Caveat: these are just thoughts, I will need to consult with the minister on this.)

It’s a long time since I have written about Hegel and the dialectic. But a key part of his philosopy is that universals, ideas, thoughts are initially abstract and they only become concrete when they are manifested in something particular, such as experience or relationship. I wonder therefore whether, until yesterday, my faith was abstract, not yet real. This explains why new believers are encouraged to be baptised as soon as possible after being saved and why Jesus commanded it in the first place.

God knows when the end of the world is!

Jesus warned that there will be many false preachers. And Harold Camping, the guy who prophesied that the end of the world will be today at 6pm, is one of them.

He claims to have based his prediction purely on what the Bible says and, in particular, the fact that Peter wrote in his letter that “a day is LIKE a thousand years and a thousand years is LIKE a day”. This is what is known in grammar as a simile and the point that Peter was trying to make was that a long period of time for us human beings is like a day to God – which is why the last 2,000 years and counting has been called ‘the last days’.

Has Mr Camping ever looked at Matthew 24? This is Jesus’ prophecy of the end of the world and he clearly states that the only person who knows the timing of the end of the world (and Jesus’ return) is God the Father himself. Not even Jesus knows when it will be.

You mean Bin Laden really does exist?

All this time I thought he was a make-believe character that parents told their children about to get them to behave and whom Coca Cola turned into a marketing gimmick. Oh wait, wrong make-believe character. I thought he was an American creation to justify an imperialistic grab for oil. Now it turns out that there really was a Bin Laden. (All we need now is someone to wage war on Finland to find out the truth of Father Christmas.)

But I wonder why they didn’t just capture him so that he could be put on trial, like Saddam Hussein? Surely there was plenty of evidence of his connections to 9/11 and the attack on the USS Cole, not to mention the 7/7 bombings in London and the metro bombings in Madrid and, God knows, how many other terrorist attacks. I mean, that is why we invaded two sovereign countries after all, isn’t it?

If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were just wars, then surely Bin Laden should have been subjected to the criminal justice system (American, Pakistani, Afghan, even International) and been convicted and sentenced. His death won’t, I don’t think, put an end to the conspiracy theories.

It’s interesting that, in his speech, Barack Obama said that the families who lost loved ones to Al Quaeda could be sure that “justice had been done”. But, in western liberal democracies, the administrator of justice is the judge, not the executive or the military. The big fear now is that Bin Laden has been turned into a martyr. Surely it would made have been more just – not too mention pragmatic – to treat him as someone who had committed crimes (terrorism), put him on trial and, if found guilty, sentence him to multiple life sentences. He wanted to die. Why not humiliate him by having him languish in prison for the rest of his life?

The White House spokesperson also claimed that Bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed, although one of his wives did try to rush the special forces team. Why would you admit to killing and unarmed, old man (even one who is the inspiration for a global terror network)?

And, of course, that is even if he is dead. According to Obama’s speech, the dead body of Bin Laden was “taken into custody”, given the Islamic funeral rites and then dumped in the sea to avoid his tomb become a shrine. But of course this means that they can’t really prove that he is dead. As a Christian country like America ought to know, the authorities tried to question Jesus’ resurrection by paying people to say he was dead, but they could never actually produce the body.

Despite Obama’s talk of the “pursuit of justice”, it seems that all the Americans wanted was revenge. And, as a result, they may well have made the world an even more dangerous place.

Being single on Valentine’s Day

If, like me, you hate Valentine’s Day because of your singleness, the Evangelical Alliance (of all people) offers a much more inclusive way of thinking about it. NotMyHeels has a bit of a Valentine’s Day Rant.  Alternatively, if you have no special someone, you can take a much more activist approach and take back the day with Plenty More Fish’s social networking competition or join PR Tips and be thankful for the way social media make you feel connected. Finally, when all else fails, we can just sit back and laugh at all those Valentine cynics and thank God we don’t have to deal with that crap.

Taxdodging – a breakdown in the dialectic

Campaigning organisation 38degrees has secured national newspaper ad space to run a full page adverts calling on the government to do something about the £120 billion lost through taxdodging. That amount alone is enough to wipe out a good part of the deficit. Perhaps if this has been the first priority then the government would not have needed to take make drastic cuts so quickly and could give real and serious consideration to what other cuts should be made.

Taxdoging is more than just a simple case of a bunch of rich people not paying their taxes. It goes to heart of the philosophical foundation of the relationship or dialectic between state and society. Society cannot exist without the state, as the lawmaker, to provide some form of organisation or structure. But, the state’s power to organise or structure is dependent on the recognition by society, not just psychologically but also materially (i.e. financially). If we do not pay our taxes, the goverment has not power to do what it needs to do in our interests. It effectively ceases to exist and thus the order of society ceases to exist.

This is not an argument for big government. It is an argument for the inevitability of government. Jesus Christ, as the prime minister in God’s government, said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there also. Similarly, whenever human beings gather together into groups, some kind of leadership and organisational structure will always emerge to keep together the contradictory elements of self and other.

Remembrance Sunday – A Christian Perspective

On Remembrance Day, we remember all those who have died for us so that we may be free and at peace in this life. But, as I said on Thursday, the best to remember them is to strive for freedom and peace – not just in the political sense, but relationally and spiritually as well.

All these people who have died for us so that we can be free are pointing to an even greater truth. Jesus Christ died for us so that we could live in spiritual freedom and at peace forever.

Success or failure

I have just heard from a friend on Facebook that our local branch of Tesco’s ran out plastic bags and were actually handing out bin liners for people to use to carry their shopping in.  Now, from an environmental point of view, we should think about our usage of plastic bags and use only if we really need to, because manufacturing them causes pollution and disposing of them causes waste. So the question is, did Tesco’s run out because they didn’t have enough to meet demand (failure) or was my friend just unlucky and shopped at the wrong time (success)?

Around 12 months ago, Tesco claimed to have halved the number of plastic bags handed out over three years and Professor Mohan Munasinghe credited Tesco’s success to its scheme to reward customers who reuse bags with Clubcard points.

This raises a further question: do incentives encourage social responsibility?

Incentivisation prioritises financial gain over social responsibility, riches over love. It makes the performance of virtue dependent on circumstances. There is no room for a complete life because life is conditioned by something outside of itself (the Clubcard point). As Jesus – in Hegel’s own words – said: “Your reward (if you have need of the notion of a reward as incentive) is the quiet thought of having done well. For although the world may little know the author of your action, even what you do on a small scale…has an effect whose bounty is eternally rich.” (The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, 1799, p113)